We need an education system that works for the whole of society

Attainment is important for young people, but exams have to be seen in a wider context as part of an education that allows young people to flourish, says John Sentamu.

Up and down the country, there are great examples of schools achieving fantastic results for some of the most disadvantaged pupils – results that give them that important piece of paper at GCSE or A-Level, but also equip them to be active agents for change in our society.  My Youth Trust’s citizenship resource has to date reached over 48,000 young people who are transforming their communities, across the North of England.

However, we must not be naïve. Morale amongst school leaders is at a crisis point. Late last year Teach First, Teaching Leaders and Future Leaders together published research indicating that by 2022 we could be short of up to 19,000 school leaders. This could mean that 1 in 4 schools lacks the leadership team it needs with recruitment of leaders a particular concern in rural settings.

The Church of England has surveyed some of our own 4,700 headteachers asking them what their challenges are.

Morale amongst school leaders is at a crisis point

Shrinking budgets and teacher recruitment featured, but many were concerned that they felt under pressure to sacrifice the most imaginative opportunities that school could offer, in favour of meeting inflexible measures. That could mean subjects such as music and PE being squeezed out in primary schools or pastoral time restricted to make way for extra tuition. Too many children are missing out on the chance to learn through wider and extra-curricular experiences which provide the kind of learning opportunities needed to foster positive mental well-being and personal growth.

Our extraordinary teachers are there to prepare our children and young people to thrive not only in school, but in local communities and beyond – and we need to support them. That’s why I’m joining leaders in education from across the country this Saturday, to launch the Church of England Foundation for Educational Leadership, focused on educating for wisdom, hope, community and dignity. The Foundation will work to build up present and future leaders who will share the Church’s vision for education, and also be the best possible professional practitioners who enable our children to thrive.

The message of wholeness and wellbeing of every human being has always been integral to the Church’s vision for education. There are approximately 1 million children attending a Church of England school and to date the Church of England is the biggest sponsor of Academies in England. Encouraging wholeness and human flourishing is vital for young people today and we must never grow tired of asking, how are our schools enabling their students to have life and have it abundantly?

Too many children are missing out extra-curricular experiences

During my 6-month Pilgrimage of Prayer, Witness and Blessing in the Diocese of York last year, I visited 148 schools, including nursery pre-schools, primary, secondary and sixth form colleges, and it was a privilege to see so much excellent teaching and learning. Often dealing with budgetary constraints and working in challenging local contexts, these extraordinary teachers remain committed not only to offering the very highest academic standards but to ensuring their pupils receive a rounded curriculum with a full sense of personal development.

One of the key things I took from the EU referendum last year and the way the campaign developed was that we can only flourish as a country if we can live well together. Nowhere is that message more important than in our schools – where our school leaders are shaping the values and virtues of our society in the future.

We need an education system that works for the whole of society and not just for individuals. Our children learn just as much out of the classroom as they do in it. The way we treat each other when we disagree, how we work out our differences and how we apologise when we hurt each other – not to mention how we learn about service to each other – all of these things are vital for our future as a country, and they are learned in the playground, in the corridor and in the lunch hall as well as in the classroom.

Make no mistake – the attainment that we measure through exams is crucial for securing the future of young people. But exams have to be seen in a wider context and as part of an education which allows young people to flourish.

Ask any of the loyal York City FC fans on the touchline at Bootham Crescent and they will tell you that knowing the rules and having high standards are only half the recipe for a winning team. It matters who you have on the pitch and whether they can play as a team!


John Sentamu is the Archbishop of York

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